In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the Joe Zone is taking the plunge into the treacherous but vital subject of male-female communication.
One of the most difficult and dangerous tasks in life is traversing the minefield of communication with members of the opposite sex. Given that the same language is being spoken, that there is a shared cultural environment, and the joint objective is clarification rather than obfuscation, one might think it would be as easy as falling off a cliff. Unfortunately, it is not, but the results are often the same.
My wife and I have worked at it for some years. Granted, for me it’s more work, since women are by nature the better communicators. And therein lies the heart of the problem. Women are so adept are packing dense meanings into compact phrases that the male often is in the dark as to the meaning of the conversation in which he has just participated. This female skill extends to wresting every color of meaning from the most brief and apparently simple male response. As an example, consider the following recent exchange:
Wife: When you get a chance, would you please take out the trash?
This seems to be simple enough. Beneath the surface, however, are murky waters where lurk nuances and meanings far beyond the words. Here’s what the average man would get from this conversation:
Wife: Since you’re lying around with nothing to do, and I can’t stand that, I’ve found this trivial, meaningless job for you that will strip you of your dignity and attack your self-image as a hunter-male who provides for and protects his female companion.
Me: Yes, beloved, I know that what you ask is beneath me, but I will do it to show my abiding devotion to you. Just let me delay a bit so I can maintain a semblance of dignity.
As straightforward as this interpretation seems to be, the woman, I have come to realize, hears it differently:
Wife: I hate to disturb you, but this task of paramount importance must be attended to immediately. This is an opportunity for you to prove your love for me. My entire self-image as a desirable woman depends on your immediate acceptance of this noble crusade. Slay the dragon for me! Even the slightest hesitation on your part will confirm that I am a worthless hag.
Me: You worthless hag!
The seeds of this type of miscommunication are sown early in life. Consider the following exchange that took place between me and the girl next door, both five years old at the time. We were sitting on her back porch swing, with her mother lounging in the yard perhaps 30 feet away:
Me: Can I give you a kiss?
Girl Next Door (turning and shouting): Mom! He wants to kiss me!
Me (fainting): Uhhhh…
Undoubtedly the little lady mistook my intention, and heard the following: “I am a brute, and I want to take advantage of you and leave you tainted so that no male will ever again want you, as I am a true swine and totally inconsiderate of your delicate femininity.”
Of course, that is a totally inaccurate interpretation. What I actually meant was: “You are so sweet and pretty that I am in utter rapture at your sight, and if I might be privileged and honored to actually touch your golden cheek, I will fade away and die a happy boy.” I just didn’t know how to say it so she would hear it.
By the time I was a teenager, my communication skills with the fair sex had actually deteriorated. This is a common occurrence among males; some come out of it, and some never do. I hit rock bottom in my junior year in high school, when the following encounter took place at a school dance:
(Standing by myself, trying to look cool, but succeeding at looking like a teenage mutant from outer space. A dreamy slow song is playing as the non-mutants, arms around each other, sway hypnotically. A sweet, pretty girl from my class approaches.)
Pretty Girl: Well, don’t just stand there. Aren’t you going to dance?
Me: Oh, I’m not very good at it; I really don’t know how. I wouldn’t know what to do.
Pretty Girl: There’s Linda; I have to go. I’m going to walk home with her.
I realize now that there was more to this conversation than meets the eye. Unfortunately, it took me twenty years to come to this revelation. I was lying in bed early one morning, in that sweet fog of half-consciousness, my mind reliving the incident without the interference of logical thought. In a flash I comprehended what had eluded me so many years before. Here’s how I believe the girl heard it:
Pretty Girl: I’ve been hoping you’d ask me to dance, but obviously by the time you get around to it, I’ll be collecting Social Security. So I’ve decided to swallow my pride and make the first move, in plain view of the entire school. Please don’t reject and humiliate me. Won’t you dance with me?
Me: You worthless hag! Away with you!
Pretty Girl: There’s Linda; she can help with my assisted suicide.
Of course, I was unaware of the subtle nuances involved. I heard it as follows:
Pretty Girl: You loser! Are you such a jerk that you can’t even find someone to dance with?
Me: That’s right. No one would ever want to dance with me.
Pretty Girl: I can see why. There’s Linda; I’d rather be with her anyway. Wither and die, loser.
As you may have gathered from the above examples, women seem determined to focus their conversations on non-essential issues such as feelings, emotions, and relationships. The average male does not recognize that these things exist; those that do certainly aren’t going to talk about them. The male considers conversation as a simple tool for exchanging facts.
Consider the following conversation between a couple about to go out for the evening to a party:
Woman: Do I look OK?
Man: You look fine.
Woman: Is this dress too tight?
Man: No, it looks fine.
Woman: What about my hair? I couldn’t get it to do anything.
Man: Really, you look fine.
Now consider the following conversation after they return home:
Woman: Did you see how that young hussy looked?
Man: I thought she looked fine.
Woman: You didn’t think her dress was too tight?
Man: No, it was fine.
Woman: But her hair was a teased mess.
Man: I thought it looked fine.
The man thinks he has responded in the same innocuous manner in both conversations. The man is a fool. Here’s how the woman heard them:
Woman: Am I attractive?
Man: Not particularly.
Woman: Do I look like the old frump that you always feared I’d become?
Woman: Will you be ashamed to be with me?
Man: You betcha.
Woman: Did you think that young hussy was more attractive than I am?
Man: Yes! I couldn’t keep my eyes off her!
Woman: You don’t think her skin-tight dress was an obvious ploy to have men drool over her?
Man: Drool! Drool!
Woman: But didn’t her hair give her the witchy vixen look?
Man: All women should have the witchy vixen look!
The male in this scenario seems hopelessly stuck in the information-exchange mode. At one time, I participated in these very conversations with my wife. But after years of patient tutoring on her part, I can now confidently converse with almost any woman, and offend her only about 75% of the time. Such dramatic results are possible for all men who are willing to make a sincere effort. And I would love to help, but I must immediately attend to a task of paramount importance, and slay the trash dragon.